NEW ZEALAND Julian Savea is steadying for the fight of his life to regain his All Blacks jersey, and will do so from the Hurricanes despite an out-clause in his Super Rugby contract that would have allowed him to change franchises.
Savea, 27, was dumped from Steve Hansen's All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship after a less than impressive series against the British and Irish Lions. He was also benched by the Hurricanes for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Lions in Johannesburg -- the second straight year he was demoted at the business end of the competition.
It is understood Savea has been given a firm message by the national selectors around the improvements he needs to make to be considered for a potential return to the international arena, and a long-term time-frame that stretches well into 2018 to do so.
But the 54-test wing, who has scored 46 tries in those internationals, has revealed on the eve of the launch of the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens at Suncorp Stadium that he will be remaining at the Hurricanes, despite one other franchise, understood to be the Chiefs, presenting as a "tempting" alternative.
It is the first time Savea has spoken about his All Blacks demotion and Super Rugby future since his axing by Steve Hansen.
"I've decided to stay with the Hurricanes," Savea, an ambassador and confirmed starter for the 2018 Tens tournament, said. "With everything that's been going on over the last year I know in my heart it's the best place to get my rugby back [on track], and whatever I need to earn my spot back I will do.
"I'm excited about that challenge as well."
Savea said he weighed a lot of information up before deciding the Hurricanes remained the place for him to play his franchise rugby.
"This is home, it's where my family is, and we're just about to have a kid," he said. "I weighed everything up, and regardless of if I did decide to go anywhere else I still needed to perform well, and I know I will perform the best I can if I want to in the Hurricanes jersey."
The World Cup winner from 2015 admitted it has been a difficult call.
"Of course, when you have that option it definitely is tempting [to go somewhere else]. You've got to weigh your options up and find what's best for yourself and your family. I put a lot of things on the table, and my decision is to stay.
"I know if any team is going to help me get back to the best, it's the Hurricanes.
"Anywhere I was going to go I needed to play well," he added. "There was only one other franchise I was looking at, but I know deep down in my heart [the Hurricanes] is the best place for me."
Savea also revealed how testing his latest All Blacks demotion has been, and how determined he was to regain his spot in the team.
He will have his work cut out there, with Rieko Ioane making a fine fist of the left wing spot in 2017, and Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Israel Dagg all ahead of him in the national pecking order at present.
"When I first found out I didn't make the team, it was disappointing," he added. "But there was a silver lining the way I looked at it. There was an opportunity to sit back and reflect on where I am and excitement that I want to get better and be back in the [All Blacks] environment.
"I know I've got a lot of things to work on and I'm excited to do that."
He said his mindset was as positive as it could be, all things considered. He also revealed how much the "external noise", as he called it, had got to him.
"My head space is just about now I can relax and just play footy, and don't have to worry too much about what anyone is saying. I guess that's what I've been doing in the past -- letting the external noise affect me. Now I'm real happy and real excited to get back to where I know I can be."
Savea didn't want to reveal exactly what Hansen and the All Blacks coaches had said to him specifically about his path back, but indicated he was up for the challenge they had set him.
"Just in general it was to get my head space right, which I think I've done, and there is still a few things on the field I need to work on.
"A lot of the young boys are getting faster now, and I've got to keep up with their speed. So I'll work on the speed, and see how it goes.
"At the moment I'm loving it, enjoying the challenge and really excited to try and get back."
The one-time best wing in the world added he was determined to put the "fun factor" back into his rugby, whether it's with the Lions in the provincial competition (where he has asked to play on the right wing), at the Tens next year which he sees as an ideal early-season tester, or then back in Super Rugby with the Canes.
"I wasn't enjoying rugby. I don't know if you could tell by the way I was playing or not. It doesn't really matter why. Looking back now I know I wasn't enjoying it and I've got to take ownership of that, and of not playing well.
"But now I'm happy where I'm at and excited about the challenge of getting back to where I need to be."